From The War Years by Samuel Mercier

*

an old professor
who had served in the Vietnam War
stared at the lumps in the paint
on his bedroom wall

one day he told me
that he had survived
by reading just one book

I wish I could remember which one

long ago I
got in the habit of living
with borrowed memories

*

*

two towers fall
and we know what we have to do

the geese break from the fields as if the sky
is tearing apart
while in the shed which smells of earth and turpentine,
the skin of the old Marshall amplifier still resonates

the maples have lost the summer, the birches too
time doesn’t flow, it turns
in a succession of lights and storms

history doesn’t exist, it collapses
beyond the highways there is nothing left
and we will have to learn to squeeze our hands into fists
until the whitening of the joints

two towers fall
and we know what we have to do

*

*

the war had started
and we were following it
on green screens

the trail of the missile
spreads out over Baghdad

here it has snowed for millennia
the houses are citadels
and the streets, tunnels
in which the children are lost
never to return

*

*

you don’t know what they’re capable of
the night fallen, they slide
into the bed of virgins
to make themselves bastard children
who will pray to ancient gods

they come from nowhere
and don’t know the value of things
they will burn the car dealer
and sacrifice our cats to coyotes

you don’t know what they’re capable of
they will insert themselves into your silence
until you can no longer tell
how many we are

*

*

the sewers overflow
the rats come to die on the doorsteps

the mothers sleep no more

fear is everywhere fear is everywhere
the price of crude oil is rising
the tv is broken

churches collapse
spring splinters

and the sale coupons expire
without even
a last word

*

*

he had been digging for a long time already
a trench in his backyard
in which he was waiting

the enemy approaches, you know it, the enemy approaches
they will burn down the mall
rip out the grass
at the municipal park
to replace it with sand
and sacrifice sheep

and in your eyes, yes, in your eyes
I see it already, smoking and beautiful
Kandahar under the bombs
is like a spring flower

the one that we buy
and that never withers

*

*

someone started a forest fire
and the air was yellow
like an old slide

in the courtyard of a school
the asphalt was drying

at night, the flying ants
came to burn
on the lights
of the baseball field

off to one side, the minivans
oversaw the players
like purple and green camels
waiting for the caravan to leave

*

*

we will follow the way of champions
who conquer islands and mountains
discoverers of rivers and grasslands
surveyors of sky and space

burn the forests to plant rusty nails
stop the torrent to pour concrete

we will follow the way of champions

eat prize-winning cows
and all the biggest swordfish

to defend the highways
where our blood flows

and our enemies’ tires
never roll

we will follow the way of champions

*

*

eat the darkness, children
the winter is black like terror
we’ll never get out alive

we may well have to
sell the dog
empty the house
and burn the trash

the past is a shadow
and when we would like to
half-blind ourselves by the hands of clocks
it will always be there, just behind us

eat the darkness, children
beauty is a loss of time
and you must accustom yourselves
not to look at what follows you
don’t forget but don’t think
go straight ahead
carried by what was

eat the darkness, children

*

*

we no longer need poetry
neither epic nor any other kind

the world marches to its own drum
it’s up to you
to fall in line

we have buried God
with the dog and His mourners
there’s nothing left for you
but to believe in what we will be

without azure skies and without any bullshit

believe in us
and your children will eat
until there are no more tears

Bios

Samuel Mercier

Samuel Mercier was born in Rivière-du-Loup, Eastern Québec, in 1986. He started publishing poetry online with Poème Sale, and has since been published in Nouveau Projet, ArtPress, Spirale, and elsewhere. He holds a BA in literature from Université de Montréal (he also studied at the Sorbonne during his baccalaureate) and an MA in French literature from Université de Montréal, and he is currently finishing a PhD at the UQAM while teaching classes there and at the Ahuntsic Cegep. The War Years, his first collection, was published in 2014 with l’Hexagone.

Virginia Konchan

Virginia Konchan is the author of the chapbook Vox Populi (Finishing Line Press, 2015) and a collection of short stories, Anatomical Gift (Noctuary Press, 2017). Her poems have appeared in The New Yorker, Best New Poets, The Believer, The New Republic, and Boston Review, and her translations, in Asymptote and Circumference. She is co-founder of Matter, a journal of poetry and political commentary, and Associate Editor for Tupelo Quarterly.

Les années de guerre. Copyright (c) Les Éditions de l'Hexagone, 2014. English translation copyright (c) Virginia Konchan, 2016.